A MEMORABLE ‘BLOODY’ FLIGHT
BY: Jack Serig, Sr.
The 18th (Otter)* Aviation Company’s mission in South
Vietnam, after our arrival in early 1962, was simple. We were to provide
Otter support to each of the then three ARVN (Army of Vietnam) Corps’ U.S.
Military Assistance Advisory Groups. Company headquarters was established
at the Nha Trang airfield and provided logistics support to the three detachments
located at Da Nang (I Corps), Pleiku (II Corps) and Saigon (III Corps).
Each detachment commander was responsible for establishing daily scheduled
flights within their respective Corps area of responsibility.
One such scheduled flight departed the Saigon-Tan Son Nhut airfield on a
VFR (Visual flight rules) morning heading, eventually, deep into the Mekong
Delta. An Army chaplain from one of the isolated delta camps had signed
on as a passenger. Several stops at delta airstrips were scheduled
before the chaplain would reach his destination. It was common in those first
months of our U.S. military buildup for members of isolated units to make
grocery purchases wherever groceries could be found. The chaplain had
made such a purchase, for his unit’s compliment, at the Saigon commissary.
Our Otter crew had assisted the chaplain with the loading of his groceries.
The seat across from where the Padre sat was empty and several bags of his
precious commodities were placed in that seat.
After several uneventful landings and takeoffs, the Otter
lifted off from a small strip and established a new heading on climbout.
Suddenly, an unfamiliar “crack” was heard by all on board, instantly followed
by a small explosion within the aircraft’s passenger compartment. Minds were
working furiously to determine the cause of the unexplained interruption.
It was immediately obvious to all on board that the “good father” was the
victim of whatever it was that had occurred. The pilot looked back over his
shoulder and was astounded to see the chaplain’s face and upper body covered
with blood. The crew chief was at the chaplain’s side in an instant,
ready to provide first aid and assist with the bleeding “father’s” wounds.
No one else appeared injured so all eyes and thoughts of crew and passengers
were riveted on our wounded “Man of God.” The crew chief took a few
moments to check the bloody face and torso.
All on board were rooting for the chaplain’s well being.
You could sense the silent, well-meant prayers of these suddenly religious
souls. The pilot looked back again and activated his intercom. “How
is he?” “How bad is it?” The aviator’s mind-set was running through
the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) he would follow for a wounded passenger.
After a few more moments the pilot could see a smile emerging from his crew
chief’s face. He also observed the chaplain smiling through the bloody
morass that distorted his facial features. The crew chief was ebullient
in his response. “Sir, he’s covered with ketchup!” There was a short
moment of silence as the new, positive piece of information registered in
the minds of these concerned soldiers. Then smiles, then clapping,
acknowledging the relief each person felt. Then, hard, belly-deep laughter
when the realization hit each one that they had a great, funny story, which
had just occurred in their presence. A story to be remembered a lifetime.
A Vietcong round had penetrated through the belly of the
aircraft, upward into the seat holding the chaplain’s groceries. Of
all the grocery items, the round picked an isolated bottle of ketchup.
No one had been injured by fragmented, flying glass. The other groceries
surrounding the ketchup bottle had successfully contained the glass. But
the liquid ketchup sought out an unsuspecting adversary, our “Padre.”
In the thirty-plus years since this incident occurred,
I have often pondered: “What if......the crew had placed the groceries
on the opposite seat and the chaplain had been in the seat that took the
round?” Somewhere it is said: “The Good Lord works in mysterious ways!"
This article was published
in the LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of the Army Otter-Caribou Association,
in the March, 1992 edition.